The Toronto Maple Leafs held just three selections during the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The team was without their first-round pick after they shipped it to Columbus in exchange for forward Nick Foligno. The franchise also sent their third-round choice to the Calgary Flames for goaltender David Rittich. Rounding out their trade deadline maneuvers, the Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Ben Hutton for a 5th round pick while also getting center Riley Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a converted 6th round selection.
In familiar territory, Toronto made their first selection in the second round for the second time since 2019. Drafting Peterborough Petes sniper Nick Robertson 53rd overall that year, general manager Kyle Dubas ultimately stood pat at his limited original selections, with insufficient draft capital remaining.
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Matthew Knies, C/LW, Tri-City Storm-USHL (Round 2, Pick 57)
Ty Voit, C/LW, Sarnia Sting-OHL (Round 5, Pick 153)
Vyacheslav Peksa, LW/RW, Irbis Kazan-MHL (Round 6, Pick 185)
Choosing Knies with their first selection at 57th overall, the 6’3 forward enjoyed a strong season with the Tri-City Storm during his rookie year. He recorded 14 goals and 31 assists in 44 regular-season contests. Improving on his goal totals during his sophomore campaign, the 18-year-old racked up 17 in 44 games while also chipping in four points in three playoff games. Locked in on Ty Voit with their 5th round choice, the Sarnia Sting alumn missed the entire 2020-2021 season after the Ontario Hockey League canceled their season.
Displaying flashes during his one season with the team, the Pittsburgh native chipped in eight goals and 20 assists to help them to the 5th spot in the league’s West Division. Rounding out their draft haul with Russian netminder Vyacheslav Peksa, the 185th overall pick spent last year with Irbis Kazan in the MHL. Amassing an 8-5-2 record and a .909 save percentage in 17 starts, the Russian native projects as a project after heading into the weekend unranked on many people’s boards.
Best Pick: Matthew Knies
Ranked as the 37th ranked prospect according to NHL Central Scouting, Knies was lauded for his puck handling skills and creativity leading up to the draft. Possessing the ability to use his 6’3″ 200-pound frame to shield the puck from defenders, the Pheonix native can also create in open space. Spending parts of three seasons with Tri-City, he registered 31 goals and 56 assists in 88 games with the team.
The Leafs are up against the cap as they look for cheap contracts to round out the bottom of their roster. They need to find young talented players to contribute in their bottom six. A powerful two-way forward who can help drive the play in front of him, Knies offers Toronto both goal-scoring and leadership potential.
Worst Pick: Vyacheslav Peksa
Eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, Peksa was passed on last fall. Returning to the MHL in Russia, he appeared in 17 games for Irbis Kazan. Amassing a .909 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average, the 18-year-old offers high athletic upside at 6’2″. Needing to improve on his angles in the crease; look for him to also need to become more composed in the net before being able to play in the league. Furthermore, he will also have to add bulk to his frame at just 163 pounds.
Searching for consistent production from the goaltender position, the Leaf’s return starter Jack Campbell to pair with free-agent acquisition Petr Mrazek. In addition to this, with Joseph Woll and Ian Scott remaining in the organization’s pipeline, Peksa represents a significant gamble for Dubas and company.
Sleeper Pick: Ty Voit
Selected 89th overall by the Sarnia Sting in the 2019 OHL Draft, Voit was forced to miss his 2020 campaign after the league canceled their season. Showing strongly in his lone year with the team, he was given a 4th round grade by many evaluators. This was after being ranked 107th overall by central scouting.
Fitting the mold of the type of player the Leaf’s organization is searching for, Voit stands at just 5’9″. Dynamic off the rush, he possesses the high-end skill and the ability to beat opposing defensemen with his strong puck handling skills. Along with this, the Pittsburgh Aviators alumn is capable of playing a solid two-way game with a high-end hockey IQ and natural instincts for the sport.
Falling in the first round of the playoffs once again, Toronto lost disappointingly to their bitter rival Montreal Canadiens. Losing three straight games after taking a commanding 3-1 lead, the team scored just one goal in game seven. Trading assets at the trade deadline to gear up for the playoffs, the franchise traded multiple draft picks to load up with as much talent as possible. Holding just three picks in the 2021 draft, as a result, the group remains committed to winning with the core group currently in place.
Opening free agency with just over ten million dollars in cap space, the front office agreed to multiple short-term low average annual value deals to fill out the bottom six of their roster. However, with depth becoming more and more important across the NHL, the spotlight remains on Dubas and company to maximize their draft selections and acquired as much talent as possible. Looking to find young skilled players on cheap contracts, expect both Knies and Voit to play quality minutes and provide production inside their bottom six with proper development.
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